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The effects of ageing on skin

How does age affect skin?

How one’s skin ages depends on a variety of factors: lifestyle, diet, genes, and personal habits such as smoking.

Other factors contributing to wrinkled, spotted skin include normal ageing, loss of subcutaneous support (fatty tissue between skin and muscle), stress, daily facial movement, and obesity.

Normal skin changes that come with age

As you age your skin may become:

  • Rough
  • Slack. The loss of elastic tissue (elastin and collagen) in the skin causes the skin to hang loosely
  • Transparent, caused by a thinning of the epidermis (surface layer of the skin)
  • Fragile, caused by a flattening of the area where the epidermis and dermis (layer of skin under the epidermis) come together
  • Easily bruised, due to a loss of support around the blood vessel walls
  • More susceptible to lesions such as benign tumours
  • Dry

Sun damage and your skin

Over time, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light damages certain fibres in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of elastin causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to bounce back after stretching. The skin also bruises, tears more easily, and takes longer to heal. So while sun damage may not show when you're young, it will later in life.

Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. You can, however, delay changes associated with ageing by staying out of the sun and wearing sunscreen with sun-protection factor of at least SPF15 and applying it regularly when spending time outdoors.

Changes below the skin

  • Loss of fat below the skin in the cheeks, temples, chin, nose, and eye area may result in loosening skin, sunken eyes and a more skeletal appearance.
  • Bone loss, mostly around the mouth and chin, may become evident after the age of 60 and cause puckering of the skin around the mouth.
  • Cartilage loss in the nose causes drooping of the nasal tip and accentuates the bony structures in the nose.

Other skin changes

Gravity, facial movement, and even one’s sleep position are secondary factors that contribute to changes in the skin. When the skin loses its elasticity, gravity causes drooping of the eyebrows and eyelids, looseness and fullness under the cheeks and jaw, and longer ear lobes.

Facial movement lines become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity (usually as people reach their 30s and 40s). Lines may appear horizontally on the forehead, vertically on the skin above the root of the nose (glabella), or as small curved lines on the temples, upper cheeks and around the mouth.

Smokers tend to have more wrinkles than non-smokers of the same age, complexion, and with the same history of sun exposure.

Ageing and dry skin

Dry skin and itching is common in later life. About 85% of older people develop “winter itch”, because overheated indoor air is dry. The loss of sweat and oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin. Anything that further dries the skin (such as overuse of soaps or hot baths) will make the problem worse. If your skin is very dry and itchy, seek medical advice because this condition can affect your sleep, cause irritability, and possibly be a symptom of a disease.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 30, 2017

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